She walked in the door
just as I always remember, with her laughter proceeding her. A strong woman, full of passion, devotion, love, determination, and silent strength. Her smile is contagious, and her eyes sparkle.
Time has shaped her into the soul she is now, a piece of coal, transformed from years of pressure into a diamond.
I remember as a child, forcing sleep upon myself, as she and my parents belly laughed from the floor above my head. The smell of popcorn perfection wafted through the air, teasingly tickling my nose; a buttery reminder that we were not yet parents, and as such, we could not stay up late and party.
I stared up at the ceiling in the dark, and complained with my cousins that, “life just wasn’t fair”.
As I think back to those days, I remember my mind being full of wonder for my future. Who would I marry? Where would I live? How many kids would I have? I played M.A.S.H. with my friends, just to tease fate. Of course, I would live in a mansion, have 4 kids, a red Porsche, and my husband would be a doctor – that’s how the game worked, right? I never thought for a minute, that my Aunt Barbara’s life, was just as open to change, as my own.
She was one of few people back in the 70’s in Utah, that dated and married a man that was a different race than her own. I can only imagine her journey. I have heard parts – someday maybe she will tell all of her own story, but not yet. I am sure she felt alone, in a culture and time that wasn’t used to change.
I never knew the difference. The only way I remember being affected, was when we went boating in the summer time. My cousin’s skin was much darker than my own, even my other cousin that wasn’t mixed ethnicity, was nearly the same color as the ones that were. I looked down at my scrawny legs, and I felt white. Very white. And I was. I was blessed with Irish skin, porcelain in color – definitely not the popular, very tanned skin of the 80’s.
My Uncle Ethan, Barbara’s husband, was one of my favorite people on the planet. He was a giant of a man, in a spirit kind of way – full of faith. Every time I saw him he would say, “What’s up J.J.?!”
I can hear it echoing in my head, even 30 years later, as I allow myself to travel back in time. He was full of life, and so fun to be around. I remember funny things about him, like his masterful eye roll, when he thought something was crazy – or his girls were being dramatic. I remember his strut, not proud – but with a confident spring in his step. I remember the way he accepted everyone, without judgement. I remember the way he laughed with my dad, at some unheard, whispered joke. I remember playing basketball with him, he was “The Lakers” and we were the “Utah Jazz”. I remember him on horses, and pulling him behind our gutless, pea green, boat for an eternity as we tried to get his strong, muscled body out of the water on a slalom ski. I remember his mnm’s, stashed away in his sock drawer. I remember his comb, stuck in his Afro and back pocket when he was done combing, as we walked through the swap meets in California. I remember his hugs, and dancing brown eyes when he thought something was funny…and that way he shook his head, when he was speechless.
I remember when he started getting sick
Nobody wanted to talk about it, or acknowledge that something may be wrong when his wrist hurt. I remember pretending all was well, along with everyone else. I remember seeing fear in my cousin’s eyes, as they watched him slowly deteriorate for fifteen years. I remember my dad helping him find humor, even during his pain.
One time he and my dad were in a check out line at the store, and my dad spoke up for my Uncle Ethan, that could no longer speak, because Lou Gehrig’s had taken away almost all of his muscle control at this point. “Mam?” my dad said with that smirk. “Yes sir?” “My friend here, wanted to tell you that he thinks you are a good looking lady.” “(blush) Why thank you!”
all the while, Uncle Ethan’s eyes darted back and forth between my dad and the innocent lady, full of shock and horror. Yes, my dad can find humor in almost any circumstance, and I know Ethan appreciated that. They were long time friends. My dad is not a judgmental kind of man, so when a “black man” waltzed right into our family, and some (namely my grandparents) were freaking out, my dad saw no reason for it. He embraced him as the new brother in law, that he was. As such, I grew up color blind. I remember feeling sick, as I matured under the realization that this wasn’t how everyone was raised.
The lessons that Ethan taught us all, were invaluable. I miss him. I know my Mandy misses him.
I know his other kids, and grand kids miss him. And of course, my Aunt Barbara misses him. This was a twist in her story, she did not foresee. But you know, life is a funny thing. It kicks us around, sometimes right in the gut, and takes our breath away for days, weeks, months, or even years…but somehow we carry on. We don’t miss our loved one less, we just find a way to keep going. I don’t want to pretend to understand this fully, or at all, as I haven’t been there myself. But, I do respect the people I know that lost their spouse.
She still waltzed into my home laughing tonight, and toting her grandson along for her trip to Utah. She isn’t giving up, in fact she is setting more goals. She is recently retired from teaching for twenty years, and ready to begin taking pictures, and painting, and traveling when she can. She even encouraged me to keep writing, and said she enjoyed reading my words. Being that I respect her, and her opinion, this was very humbling for me. I can only hope to develop my writing to the point where I can help other people tell their stories. Maybe someday, she will tell it all – or at least I can help her tell it all. She has an amazing story, just waiting to be told, but timing is everything.
Until then, I have the honor of keeping Ethan junior in my home for the next several days. I have no doubt that he is being watched over, by one that loves him above. I would even go as far to say that he must be getting a major kick out of watching “J.J.” and her many daughters, laugh with his grandson. You see, family is what matters. It’s what is eternal, and meaningful always. And whether he is here on earth, or standing by unseen, it is the same.
Thank you Uncle Ethan, for teaching me many valuable lessons of acceptance, love, and patience.
Thank you Aunt Barbara, for being an example or resiliency, devotion, and patience.
and Thank you God, for giving me so many great people in my life to learn from.
My mom, Aunt Jan, and Aunt Barbara